Every NBA season begins with a bloated numbers of players dreaming All-Star dreams. Over the summer and in the preseason, you hear guys with All-Star talent promising this will be the year they break through, or guys who are barely impact players vowing to make the leap to All-Star status. Or more often than not, it’s a coach or a teammate who runs the campaign for them. Either way, each October there’s 50 “potential” All-Stars, some of whom won’t even be mentioned in the All-Star discussion come January, and some who will fall just a bit short. Who’s on that list this year?
NENE — During Nuggets/Jazz the other night, they showed an interview with George Karl where he defended Denver’s lack of big offseason moves, arguing that they’d added Carmelo “as an MVP candidate,” then casually saying they’d added Nene “as an All-Star.” Like it’s a no-brainer. True, the crop of Western Conference centers has been weakened without Yao and Shaq, but Nene is far from a lock. He’s a solid starter on a contending team, and I’d put his ceiling at about 16 points and nine boards this year, but after ‘Melo and Chauncey get their preordained tickets to Dallas, will the coaches really give the Nuggets three All-Stars if they don’t have the best record in the League? If any West center will complete a three-man bid for his team, it’ll be Andrew Bynum going with Kobe and Pau Gasol.
JOSH SMITH — Going into the Hawks’ opener against my Pacers, I made a point to specifically watch Joe Johnson to make sure I wasn’t crazy ranking him 12th on my list of go-to guys. Even though J.J. scored 25 points (almost a “quiet” 25), the ATL player who left the biggest impression was Josh Smith (18 pts, 8 asts, 5 stls). You know he’ll make the highlight reels with his dunks and catch-from-behind blocks, a few of which he unleashed on the Pacers, but Smith still showed issues with decision-making. One time in the fourth quarter when the game was still close, Smith put the blinders on and decided to take a contested, fallaway jumper where his defender was in his shirt; a predictable airball. Smith is going to be good this year, and the Hawks will be good, but he’s not there yet. Plus, the East is stacked at the forward spots.
GERALD WALLACE — Love the guy, great player, hard worker, fearless competitor. Even though Crash is earning something of a national profile and you’re starting to hear his name mentioned by national media more often, there’s a very good chance his team will be horrendous.
RUDY GAY — I didn’t want to believe all the critics who said the Grizzlies won’t be able to function with just one basketball, but watching them get waxed by Detroit, it was easy to see where Rudy (who isn’t a natural-born alpha dog) is going to struggle to stand out with O.J. Mayo, Zach Randolph and eventually Allen Iverson on the court. Rudy got 12 shots against the Pistons, and while he made seven (16 pts), I doubt he’s going to keep shooting close to 60 percent all year. Add in that the Grizzlies could also severely stink, and even 17-18 points per game from Rudy won’t be enough to translate into an All-Star debut.
LAMARCUS ALDRIDGE — Don’t read too much into his 36 percent shooting through the first two games; that will eventually come around. But LMA still doesn’t appear to have improved as a rebounder and has never been known as a great defender. Portland felt they had to pay him the big contract extension to keep the core of Aldridge, Brandon Roy and Greg Oden intact and happy, but they shouldn’t expect an All-Star return on that investment. At least not now.
RAJON RONDO — He’s proven to be just as invaluable to the Celtics as any of the Big Three, he deserves a long-term extension like Aldridge, and this will be the year everyone realizes Rondo is a star in the making. Just not an All-Star. Rondo can average close to a triple-double (with 2-plus steals on top of that), but he’s got a tough group of guards to crack in the East, not to mention three near All-Star locks on his own team.